The fight which wounded Northwestern displayed against Ohio State was a surprise to the 15,842 fans in attendance at Value City Arena, but it wasn’t for the nine Wildcats in uniform.
Already without key starters Jershon Cobb (suspension) and Drew Crawford (shoulder), Northwestern learned this week that it has lost fifth-year senior forward Jared Swopshire (knee) for the remainder of the season. In addition, Alex Olah (concussion) remains unavailable to play.
Northwestern traveled to Columbus with just seven scholarship players, but still packed plenty of hope it could win.
“We’ve really made it a priority of ours to come together and continue, through this adversity, to keep playing as hard as we can and to come out each night and give it our all,” said point guard Dave Sobolewski, just one day after the Wildcats’ near-upset of the Buckeyes.
The game’s final minutes went as many expected: Ohio State threw down emphatic slam dunks while the weary Wildcats watched. The Buckeyes separated as they were supposed to. But Northwestern gave them a scare.
Coach Bill Carmody employed the 2-3 zone, which threw off the Ohio State offense. Meanwhile, big shots from new starters Tre Demps and Kale Abrahamson injected life into the Wildcats.
“We’re a resilient team,” senior guard Reggie Hearn said. “We’ve had these injuries, but we’re not going to use that as an excuse. Coach Carmody has put a very good system in place for us to run, and I think we’re getting better and better at executing the things that coaching staff has put in.”
With a depleted roster, Northwestern has called upon would-be reserve players like Demps and Abrahamson to produce each night. While the two first-year players have been inconsistent at times, they provided the big boost Northwestern needed to match Ohio State. The Wildcats don’t believe their effort was a fluke.
“It just shows that we’re competitive and we can play with anybody in this league,” Demps said.
Northwestern has proven that it can’t be counted out of any game. It has emotional leaders like Hearn and Sobolewski who have paced the team through harsh waters. Following an embarrassing loss to Iowa at home, the Wildcats upset No. 22 Illinois in Champaign. Days after losing to Indiana, NU rebounded with an upset of No. 12 Minnesota.
But the valiant effort against Ohio State—from a team that has been run ragged with bad breaks—may be the season’s greatest surprise yet.
“We’re not going to give up,” said Hearn. “We’re going to continue to work hard and push through any adversity. We hope to do anything we can to make this a good season.”
The next battle for Northwestern comes against in-state rival Illinois. Entering Sunday’s contest, the Fighting Illini is red hot and will be the heavy favorite. Yet, you can’t count out the Wildcats.
“We’re not going to back down,” Sobolewski said. “No matter who we’ve got, who’s healthy, who’s hurt, we’re going to continue to play till the final buzzer of the last game of the year.”